The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘family’

The Nexus of All Despair

November 25, 2015 | by

Frances Brundage, Thanksgiving Day Greetings (detail), ca. 1913.

Our Winter 2015 issue features an interview with Jane and Michael Stern, who have written more than forty books; their Roadfood, first published in 1978 and now in its eighth edition, brought a new fervor and attention to regional American cuisine. To celebrate the new issue and the holiday, Jane Stern reflects here on Thanksgivings past. Happiness abounds. —D. P.

I’ve always thought that Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, based solely on the fact that I adore turkey. But if I were to remove turkey from the equation, I would probably realize that this holiday, for me, has been nothing but one hideous thing after another.

Why Thanksgiving is the nexus of all despair is a mystery. But to prove that it is, here’s a short list of some of the things I remember. Read More »

Our Prefab Thanksgiving

November 25, 2015 | by

Celebrating the old-fashioned way: at an African-themed indoor water park in Wisconsin.

The yellow three-track potato sack slide is encased in ice, and the go-kart tarps are encased in ice, and the Paul Bunyan chain-saw carving has grown a beard of icicles so tentacular one can’t help but imagine him having been recovered from one of Verne’s deeper leagues. The afternoon-shift dancers outside the Wisconsin Dolls Gentlemen’s Club wear parkas with fur-lined collars and smoke their cigarettes, waiting for the gentlemen to arrive. Their lips are chapped and their calves are rosy and their exhales hang in the cold air in front of their faces, nowhere to go. They take turns reading the club’s Yelp reviews from a single cell phone, which they pass between them.

Every dancer working was cute, with the exception of one.

What could be improved? 1. Men’s bathroom. 

There were 100% more people wearing head bandanas than I expected-saw like 6 dudes wearing them. Also, the Outlaw motorcycle gang represented with a couple of people rocking their colors! 

Pro tip: with so many blacklights inside, remember to wear your white pants.

Housed in a double-wide trailer (for real) and next to a sleazy strip motel (also, for real), disappointing ladies shake and shimmy on a tiny pit-style stage.

This last trip was particularly depressing, mainly due to the preggo dancer who was prancing and spinning topless and bottomless with a modified tube top covering her baby bump.

For some god-awful reason, I've been here twice. 

Read More »

Black History

November 24, 2015 | by

Celebrating Umoja Karamu, a “ritual for the black family,” on Thanksgiving.

From the cover of Disgruntled, Asali Solomon’s debut novel.

Back in the early 1980s, no one at the mostly white elite prep school I attended had heard of Kwanzaa, which I’d grown up celebrating instead of Christmas. This was a yearly hassle of explaining: yes, presents; no, Santa Claus. But absolutely no one had heard of Umoja Karamu, “a ritual for the black family” that we observed at Thanksgiving. This one I never volunteered to explain. Black families who celebrated Umoja Karamu (Kiswahili for “unity feast”)—and we were the only one I knew of—were to trade in the ritual of senselessly stuffing ourselves for one in which we used food and words to reflect on the grim, glorious trajectory of black people in America, to recall the crimes of the “greedy one-eyed giant” white man, and to keep the “Black Nation” energized and focused, struggling toward liberation from racism.

During Umoja Karamu, which lived in a 1971 booklet (a mere two years older than I was) published by a fellow Philadelphian named Edward Sims, we sat at our special holiday table and took turns reading solemnly aloud from a pithy narrative of African American history that moved from the ancient kingdom of Mali to the Watts riots. Between readings, we ate a symbolic sequence of aggressively non-Thanksgiving foods, including black-eyed peas, rice, corn bread, and leafy greens, all served unseasoned, perhaps to make us more thoughtful. Blessedly, my mother always insisted on a normal holiday meal after Umoja Karamu. But Edward Sims was certainly about his business. Each Thanksgiving, as I waited to get to the stuffing and gravy, I did indeed taste the suffering we read about. I experienced the “bland and tasteless condition under which Black Folk lived during the slavery period” in the form of unsalted white rice and chalky black-eyed peas. But happily, enduring Umoja Karamu, unlike the suffering of the Black Nation, was a private shame, one about which my school friends knew nothing. That is, until I received a fifth-grade assignment to write an essay about family Thanksgiving traditions and to read it aloudRead More »

A New Secret

November 12, 2015 | by

John Singer Sargent, The Birthday Party, 1887.

“It’s weird,” my brother, Charlie, said. “Lately a lot of my friends have been talking about learning things about their parents.”

“You mean, secrets?” said my mother. It was her birthday; we were having lunch. Read More »


October 19, 2015 | by

Yeah, real spooky, Austin.


I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters:
To you they have show’d some truth. —Macbeth

In the Austin airport, there is an ad for a major national bank. “You keep it weird,” it says. “We’ll keep your rates low.” (Okay, so I’m paraphrasing that second part—I stopped paying attention.) It refers, of course, to the famous Keep Austin Weird campaign launched in the early aughts by the Austin Independent Business Alliance. The movement was designed to promote small businesses and maintain the place’s idiosyncratic character, and was later adopted by cities around the country in the face of corporate encroachment. 

You see Keep Austin Weird merch everywhere in the city, on mugs and tees and coffee carriers, all of it looking as un-weird as possible. But this bank ad was next-level. It was, as magazine people might say, almost too on-the-nose. Read More »

No Judgment, No Message, No Mercy

October 16, 2015 | by

At ninety-five, Maria Beig remains deeply underread in America.

Maria Beig in her garden, sometime in the 1980s. Photo: Rupert Leser

No one captures the brutality and pragmatism of rural life like Maria Beig, who turned ninety-five last week. One of thirteen children, she was born in 1920 on a farm in Swabia, a few miles from Lake Constance, a landscape that informs her startling fiction. She didn’t publish her first novel until she was sixty-two, after a lifetime of teaching knitting and home economics in provincial schools. (Young writers, take note—there is another path, if an unglamorous one.)

Her debut, Rabenkrächzen (Raven’s Croak), has never been published in America, but it unleashed a good bit of venom in Germany: Beig’s treatment of Swabia was an arrow that struck the bone, jolting the skeletal structure of a closed society. Those who know Beig’s work like to mention the crowd at an early reading in Ravensburg, not far from her home village, who shouted her down with cries of “liar!” and “nestbeschmutzer!”, which translates roughly to “spoiler of the nest.” She took herself out of the reading business after that. Jaimy Gordon, who has translated two of her novels into English, writes that “as a result, the brother who had inherited the family property forbade Beig not only his house but even the small village where she had grown up.” Read More »